Exclusive Photo: Crashed $123M RQ-4 Air Force Drone Fished Out of the Atlantic

September 6, 2018 12:43 PM - Updated: September 6, 2018 5:43 PM
Remnants of a RQ-4 Global Hawk that was recovered on June 26, 2018 off the coast of Spain. USNI News Photo

After two months of silence, military officials have acknowledged the crash and recovery of an Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle from the Atlantic after the massive surveillance drone crashed off the coast of Spain in late June, U.S. European Command officials told USNI News on Thursday.

The Northrop Grumman-built aircraft was assigned to 348th Reconnaissance Squadron out of Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. The Global Hawk went down in the Gulf of Cadiz near the U.S. Navy’s base in Rota, Spain. The crash occurred at about 11 a.m. EDT on June 26, EUCOM spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Joe Hontz told USNI News.

Navy and Air Force assets were quickly dispatched to help recover the downed Global Hawk, including fleet oiler USNS Arctic (T-AOE-8) as well as a KC-135 refueler from the 100th Air Refueling Wing out of Zaragoza Air Base, Spain. The Global Hawk was taken to Naval Station Rota after the recovery.

An image of the recovered fuselage obtained by USNI News shows damage to the engine cowling and shorn metal at the rear of the aircraft. The cause of the crash is currently under investigation by the U.S. Air Combat Command, a spokeswoman told USNI News on Thursday.

The crash is the second time in a year the U.S. Air Force has lost a Global Hawk, with a unit cost of $123 million apiece, according to Fiscal Year 2015 figures.

An RQ-4 assigned to the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., crashed near Mt. Whitney in eastern California in June 2017. Unlike the California incident, the Air Force did not release a statement following the crash off the Spanish coast.

Congressional Research Service Graphic

Prior to the California crash, in 2012 an RQ-4 assigned to the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance program crashed in the Chesapeake Bay near Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. In 2011, an Air Force EQ-4B crashed over Afghanistan.

The Global Hawks, along with the Navy’s MQ-4C Triton maritime variant, are the largest UAVs in the U.S. inventory. The Global Hawk has a 131-foot wingspan and is designed to fly at altitudes of 60,000 feet for extended durations with a range of almost 15,000 miles, according to data from the Air Force. The Navy has operated several modified BAMS RQ-4s in the Middle East as part of an extended maritime surveillance test program.

RQ-4 Global Hawk sits on the runway before beginning a mission. US Air Force Photo
Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
Follow @samlagrone

Get USNI News updates delivered to your inbox